Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's the unions that have a brass neck

Despite the looming storm-clouds of recession, calls for public-sector pay-restraint appear to have fallen on deaf-ears at Liberty Hall. SIPTU's head of research Manus O'Riordan said that there cannot be a recovery in consumer spending growth unless the real wages of workers are increased. He said that a pay increase in line with inflation was the same as pay restraint because it would only be enough to maintain living standards.IMPACT union leader Peter McLoone said the social partnership process would be over if public sector workers were asked to accept a pause in pay, even if Taoiseach Brian Cowen was to forgo a €38,000 wage rise. "Fifteen or 20 people giving up a pay rise and expecting a quarter of a million workers to accept a pay freeze because of that is not much of a hostage exchange," said Mr McLoone, General Secretary of the largest public sector union, IMPACT. "We have not got into the subject of pay at the talks yet, but if the Government position is that it wants a pay freeze, my view is that there won't be a continuation of the social partnership process. "I don't think people will accept it. The problem is that everyone's cost of living is increasing, whether they are public servants or not." He said reports at the weekend that a pay freeze was on the way in September, after the final award under the last pay deal is made to public servants, is "pure speculation". It was also speculation that a freeze would be more palatable if the Taoiseach and his ministers further postpone or turn down a pay rise also due that month. The total cost to the taxpayer of the increases would be around €16m a year. Mr McLoone said there had been no indication of a pay freeze during the pay talks, which are still at an early stage. He said the social partners expect a statement from the Government on the public finances within weeks. There is concern that the deteriorating exchequer returns will range between €4bn and €6bn. Blair Horan, head of the Civil, Public and Services Union, which has over 13,000 members, said a pay freeze this September was "out of the question". In digging their heads, ostrich-like, into the economic sands, the unions' irresponsibly threaten the revival of the Celtic Tiger and much of the gains it has accrued for Irish society. It is imperative the Government stands up to them. This might be one area where Brian Cowen's much-vaunted 'dictatorial' leadership-style is perhaps the answer to our economic woes, unlike his frogmarching of his backbenchers into supporting the doomed Lisbon Treaty. Fresh from defeat on the latter, he is now presented by the Irish people with an opportunity to get his priorities right.

To diagnose how to revive the Celtic Tiger, we ought to rediscover the goose that laid the golden eggs from which it hatched. In large part the foundations of the rapid economic growth were laid not by the EU, but by the economic reforms of the late 1980's and 1990's. Part of this was restraining the growth in public-spending, a key factor in necessitating higher taxes under the Fitzgerald government. In Ireland from 1991-2001, receipts from privatisations (Irish Sugar/Greencore, Irish Life, B+I, Irish Steel, Eircom, ICC Bank, TSB Bank, INPC and ACC Bank) accrued €8,128.51 billion to the Exchequer. The following activities still remain under state control in Ireland: Electricity Generation and Distribution, The Agricultural Credit Corporation (now trading as ACCBank), The Industrial Credit Corporation (another bank),Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta, VHI, An Post, Bord na Mona, BGE, The ports, Irish Rail, Bus Eireann,Dublin Bus, INPC (Whitegate). Many of the industries owned by government are ones where there is some degree of monopoly power e.g. electricity generation and distribution. Note that monopoly power is not absolute in these cases since for some of its functions electricity competes with gas, coal etc. While it could be argued that Irish Rail is a natural monopoly, I strongly believe that a compelling case for the others to remain in State ownership has not been made. In the context of an expected deficit of 5 billion, I would contend they are expensive luxuries that would better be managed in the private-sector.

The blame for the economic crisis of the 1980's can in large part be laid at the door of the neo-Keynesians in Fine Gael and Labour. They inherited an economy with 10% unemployment and bequeathed to Fianna Fáil in 1987 one with 18% unemployment and a doubled national-debt. In classical centre-left economic lunacy, their reaction to the difficult economic conditions which they admittedly inherited from Fianna Fáil but also from a difficult international economic environment was to jump from the frying pan into the fire through runaway borrowing and spending and higher taxes. The National Debt rose from €15 to €30 billion (112% of GDP), with 35% of tax-revenue required to service it in 1985 compared to 7.5% in 2002. The standard and marginal rates of income-tax were raised to 35% and 60% respectively, based on a wrongheaded Socialist mantra that when the economy experiences hard times that the Government can increase its revenues by raising tax-rates.

Haughey's subsequent good centred handling of the economy from 1987 to 1992, began to restore sufficient credibility to public policy to trigger the inflows of foreign investment that created the Irish boom. Current government spending was actually lower in cash terms in 1989 than it had been in 1986. Current revenue continued to rise , as tax reductions lagged spending cuts. Exchequer borrowing for capital purposes was slashed. Exchequer borrowing declined from 13 per cent of GNP in 1986 to just 2.4 per cent of GNP three years later. The second part of the strategy was the revival of national agreements. The trade unions had been excluded from corridors of power since the collapse of the national understandings of the early 1980s. Their bargaining power was severely diluted by the very high levels of unemployment then prevailing. The Programme for National Recovery provided for basic pay increases of 2.5 per cent annually in each of the three years 1988 through 1990 - an effective pay freeze - in return for a promise of €225 million (€286million) in tax cuts over three years. By 1992, economic growth had reached 5% per annum, and by 1996 the Celtic Tiger, with annual growth rates of 11% per annum, was well under way. As we enter what seems to be another recessionary-cycle, Begg, McLoone, Horan et al. would do well to remember the lessons of last time before digging in their heels in in the aforementioned way.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Government isn't working

Economists are predicting unemployment of over 7% in 2009, and that Government borrowing will exceed EU limits next year if public spending growth is not reduced to historically low levels. The massive public finance surplus, on which the Government based its election promises, will be all gone by next year. This raises the spectre of a return to net emigration for the first time since the 1980s, with the numbers having to leave the country to find work exceeding those coming here by 20,000 per year. The report includes the ESRI's fifth successive downward revision to its outlook for this year. It says the impact of declining consumption, slower exports, the building slump, and the international credit crisis have been much worse than feared. And it expects the first Irish recession in 20 years.

But speaking on RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland, report co-author Dr Alan Barrett said the prospects of getting out of this recession were better than those of the 1980s. The ESRI argues that the Government should break European rules and borrow €11bn to run the country next year. It says pay restraint must be imposed in the public sector, and it calls for State agencies to do more to help the unemployed. will experience a recession this year for the first time since 1983, and a return to net emigration next year, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) forecasts in its latest Quarterly Economic Commentary, published today. It anticipates that the economy will contract in size by 0.4 per cent this year after growing by 4.5 per cent in 2007. This recession reflects a steep decline in domestic demand, according to the ESRI, which calculates that the volume of domestic spending this year will fall by 2.6 per cent. Investment spending is forecast to fall by 14.9 per cent while real consumer spending growth in 2008 has been revised downwards by the ESRI to just 1 per cent from 3 per cent just three months ago. Shares in Irish companies fell heavily as news of the report leaked into the market. Bank shares were particularly badly hit, with Bank of Ireland down 5 per cent.

The ESRI expects economic growth to resume next year, with a forecast expansion rate of 1.9 per cent. However, this will be insufficient to stem a recurrence of net emigration in 2009. The ESRI projects that the outflow of people from the country will reach 20,000 next year, a level of net emigration not seen since 1990. The reappearance of net emigration signals a steep deterioration in domestic labour market conditions. The ESRI projects that the level of unemployment will increase by 60,000 or 60 per cent between 2007 and 2009. The unemployment rate - the number out of work as a percentage of the labour force - is expected to climb from 4.5 per cent in 2007 to 6 per cent this year before increasing again to 7.1 per cent in 2009. The numbers at work in the economy next year are forecast to be smaller than in 2007. Yesterday, the financial services group Hibernian announced plans to move more than 500 jobs to Bangalore in India in the next three years. The recession will also derail the public finances. From an overall budget surplus of €5.2 billion in 2006, the Government is expected to incur a deficit of €7.4 billion in 2009, a turnaround of more than €12.5 billion in the space of three years. Consequently, the overall budget deficit is projected to grow to 3.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) next year - above the Maastricht criteria requiring a deficit of less than 3% of GDP. The large budget deficits projected for this year and next would cause the burden of the national debt to increase by almost 10 percentage points. The ESRI reckons that government debt as a percentage of GDP would rise from 25.4 per cent in 2007 to 34.5 per cent in 2009. Reflecting the recessionary environment, house prices are forecast to decline in both 2008 and 2009. The ESRI projects a 6.3 per cent decline in house prices this year followed by a further 1.5 per cent fall in 2009. From the new house price peak in February 2007 to the expected trough early in 2009, the ESRI estimates that new house prices will fall by 17 per cent in money terms and 24 per cent when adjusted for inflation. However, despite the economy receding into recession, upward pressure on consumer prices remains pronounced. The ESRI has revised its prediction for the rate of consumer price inflation this year to 4.5 per cent from 3.4 per cent three months ago. However, it anticipates that inflation will abate to 3 per cent during 2009.

The recession has not been triggered by the global economic slowdown or even by the surge in world prices for energy and food. Its origins are closer to home. The recession is the result of a fall in domestic demand.Last year, domestic demand - which embraces fixed investment, consumer spending and the day-to-day spending of government - increased by 3 per cent in volume terms. This year, the ESRI anticipates that it will fall by 2.6 per cent when adjusted for inflation.With a helping hand from a resurgent export drive last year, the 3 per cent growth in real domestic demand was transformed into a real growth rate in Gross National Product (GNP) of 4.5 per cent. However, in 2008, even the continuing strong performance forecast from net exports cannot offset the sizeable slide in real domestic spending. Hence, this year's recession is home grown.

The origins of this recession can be traced to the construction sector, and particularly its housing segment. The housing boom saw annual housing completions peak at 88,000 in 2006, an unsustainable level of output. Housing completions declined to 78,000 in 2007. Now, the ESRI has cut its forecast for housing completions to 40,000 in 2008 and just 30,000 in 2009. It has also halved its forecast for the volume growth in other building to 6 per cent this year. As a result, the ESRI now anticipates that the volume of total building and construction output will fall by 21.6 per cent this year. The construction sector accounts for over one-sixth of total domestic demand, with this forecast fall in building output reducing domestic demand by 3.75% in 2008. This fall in construction is there the proximate cause of the fall in domestic demand and hence it is the principal agent of the forecast recession.

The growth in unemployment, much of it stemming directly from the building sector, has prompted fears of job losses elsewhere in the economy, as households control their spending. Employment growth is now at a standstill and this has removed the principal stimulus to real consumer spending growth. With price increases accelerating past pay rises, those at work have little in the way of additional real income with which to finance additional consumer purchases.The combination of these forces has caused the ESRI to revise downwards its forecast for real consumer spending growth to 1 per cent this year from 3 per cent just three months ago. As a result, the power of consumer spending growth to brake the fall in domestic demand occasioned by the collapse of construction investment has been significantly reduced. The impact of increases in the quantum of consumer spending and current public spending, together with some additions to investment in plant and machinery, effectively contain the fall in the forecast volume of domestic demand this year to 2.6 per cent. While net exports are forecast to deliver the equivalent of 2.2 percentage points to the national growth rate this year, this is insufficient to offset the downward drag caused by the fall in domestic demand. As a result, real GNP is forecast to fall by 0.4 per cent this year, the first decline in Irish GNP since 1983.

What this underlines is the sheer wrongheadedness of Government policy on the property-market for the past 10 years - but especially since the slowdown of 2001. A decision appears to have been made to concentrate all our economic eggs in the basket of the property-market. Typical of this approach was the failure to fully implement Part 5 of the Bacon Report requiring property-developers to set aside 20% of land on sites to affordable-housing. Fianna Fáil decided to allow developers to get around Part 5 by paying a fine to local-authorities. Furthermore, as Politically-Incorrect as it may still be, the Government's strategy on opening the labour market to the new EU Accession States in 2004 must also be subjected to critical scrutiny. Non-nationals accounted for 15% of market-demand as of last year, contributing to an already overheating part of the economy. Together with our membership of EMU, with its associated one-size-fits-all monetary policy that suits European rather than Irish inflationary conditions, these 3 issues constitute an unholy trinity within the Governments management of the economy. Now don't get me wrong - I am on balance pro-EU - but taken together with these other factors, what I say is correct. The arrival of a new Finance Minister opens up possibilities in terms of rectifying these mistakes, but given the autocratic nature of the new Fianna Fáil leadership, the prospects for that have to be open to question. Fingers-crossed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

FF steady in new poll

In a surprising development, Fianna Fáil support has remained unchanged in today's Red C poll in the Sunday Business Post. The poll also finds that 90% of no voters claim to have understand the issues at stake in the Lisbon Treaty referendum, calling into question attempts by the Irish and Euro elites to blame lack of knowledge for the treaty for its defeat. As far as the party support-figures go, they are as follows: FF 40% (NC), FG 25% (-3), Labour 10% (NC), SF 10% (+1), Greens 7% (+2), PDs 2% (NC) Others 6%. On the Lisbon Treaty, 55% agreed that Lisbon threatened neutrality, 57% that tax on businesses would be changed, with 56% believing that Ireland would lose influence within the EU. The only chinks of light for the Yes side came with 52% believing Lisbon would not threaten jobs, but the 2 sides were tied on 43% on the question of whether worker's rights would be affected negatively. And while 61 per cent believed that it would simplify EU decisionmaking, 80% believed we would lose our Commissioner (correctly) were Lisbon ratified.

The poll also differs from others on the question of whether immigration was a factor in the "No" vote. For my own part I have heard it brought up constantly as a factor". While some of Lisbon's defenders would charge that the issue was unrelated to the referendum, anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. FG TD's Lucinda Creighton and Leo Varadkar have admitted it came up on the canvass. The former claims that half the questions at one public meeting concerned immigration, while Varadkar claimed it came up in the context of terminology like the "race to the bottom" i.e. using cheap labour to drive down labour standards. According to the poll, 65% of no voters want stricter immigration controls compared to 52% of yes voters. This belief is strongest among working-class voters and those who voted for Sinn Féin in the last general election - 78 per cent of whom share this view, compared with 60 per cent of Fine Gael voters, 60 per cent of Labour voters and 57 per cent of Fianna Fáil voters.

The poll confirms my aforementioned belief that supporting Fianna Fáil over issues like Lisbon could only hurt Fine Gael. It is the official Opposition, and in that context is expected to oppose the Government. Instead it rolled over and wasted several hundred thousand euro on supporting a treaty that takes away Ireland's commissioner, halves our vote on the Council of Ministers, signs us up to a mutual-defence pact, signs away most of our remaining national vetoes, and ends our automatic right to EU referenda via the self-amending provisions of Article 48 and the 'simplified ratification procedure'. The party needs to make itself relevant to voters as a credible alternative government. Supporting the government on issues like Lisbon and immigration can only reinforce the image in the minds of the electorate of FG as "FF-Lite", and in that context undermine the case for a change of government. While I did not vote for FG in any General Election, I don't believe this reality to require a degree in rocket-science to arrive at. With Labour now level with SF in today's poll and with 65% of the former's supporters voting no to Lisbon in today's poll, Eamon Gilmore will have a lot to reflect on in the run-up to the inevitable and undemocratic Lisbon II referendum next year. To my mind, he has emerged thus far with more credit than the other leaders of the pro-Lisbon parties, because of his stated opposition to an identical referendum on Lisbon and his casting doubt on whether Labour would support a "yes" campaign on such a proposition. He now needs to build on this by moving the overall thrust of his party's outlook on European matters. Ruairi Quinn has disappointed me by the way in which - only 10 days after we said "no" - in how he has flip-flopped from recognition that European integration was going too far too fast for the Irish people after the no vote - to his reversion to cheerleader for Lisbon in recent debates on the Treaty on the radio in the last few days. Gilmore has an opportunity to win newfound respect and support from the eurocritical majority of the Irish electorate if he - unlike Quinn - stands his ground on the second referendum. I for one find the idea of a second referendum on an identical proposition an attack on democracy, and will require major root and branch renegotiation if I am to be persuaded to support a Lisbon II plebiscite. We must keep our voting weight, our automatic right to EU referenda, our Commissioner, the independence of our courts from Europe, and control of our tax-rates. Otherwise it's another big, fat NO from me and I believe from the Irish people too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The case for same-sex marriage

The Dublin LGBTQ Pride Festival is well underway, and continues this evening with the annual debate in the Walton Theatre in TCD at 7.30pm. The motion for discussion is: "Same-Sex Couples Want Access to Civil Marriage, not Civil Partnerships"Chair: Sen. Ivana BacikProp: Sen. David Norris & Ailbhe Smyth (MarriagEquality)Opp: Neil Ward (Dublin Pride) & Mary McAuliffe (WERRC, UCD). The festival encompasses céilís, sports days, club nights, workshops, community street festivals, poetry readings, film nights, table quizzes, remembrance ceremonies. The flagship event is the Dublin Pride Parade itself, which takes place the second last weekend of June. Last year, over 5,000 people turned out for the parade and the outdoor show that followed in the amphitheatre of the civic offices. This year even greater numbers are expected at this years' parade, so be sure to come along to this fantastic event. In that context it seems a good a time as any to focus on the thorny question of whether same-sex couples should be granted the right to conduct civil-partnerships or same-sex marriage. As a member of the gay community I have a special interest in this matter and in countering the often outdated and inconsistent arguments against partnership rights for homosexuals. This is the primary purpose of this post, and I hope my readers will draw the same conclusions I do on this matter - though that of course is up to you. I can only do my best. 3 years of experience in fortright debate on politics.ie does not leave me under any illusions that I have a monopoly on reasoned argument and persuasiveness, but neither do I consider myself deficient in this regard. But each to his own.

A measured perusal of the politics.ie pages would not leave a moderate visitor of that hallowed forum unfamiliar with the arguments on both sides - perhaps most vocally - and sometimes controversially - on the side of the argument against same-sex unions. Milton Fine is perhaps the most vocal among those holding to this line. The basis of his arguments stem from the traditional Abrahamic theist dogma that regards marriage as inextricably linked to the rearing of children. Milton states "What about the rights of married people? By opening up marriage to all and sundry you have to devalue the institution. I'm not advocating prejudice against "gay people"...I'm advocating prejudice against homsexual relationship because they are inferior. And I would like to reiterate that I support civil partnerships for homosexuals...although ironically, given the promiscuous nature of homosexuals, if civil partnerships or indeed marriage are permitted down the line, the take up will probably be negligible.". One could be forgiven - if only through ignorance of the blindingly obvious - for inferring from Milton's rationale that all married couples have children or intend to do so, and that all same-sex couples have no intention of becoming parents. But if that is true, then why does society and the State facilitate the marriage of elderly and infertile couples? How does Milton and those of his/her mind reconcile this apparent inconsistency in their arguments?

For his part, he does so as follows: "Because there's a few people who choose not to have have children or a few unfortunate couples who cannot, the homosexual lobby feel this legitimises their activities.Because a few unfortunate women have a physical ailment which requires the use of artificial lubricant during intercourse, the homosexual lobby feel it's wrong to argue that because their vile activities require artificial lubricant they are therefore unnatural.Because a rare species of mountain goat in darkest Peru was seen mounting a fellow goat last Thursday it's wrong to suggest homosexuality is unnatural.Because some unfortunate people are incontinent, it's wrong to suggest homsexuality results in incontinence despite the fact that practicing homosexuals will end up having to wear nappies in later life.Sensibly look at the correlation between homosexuality and being a victim of child abuse and you'll be attacked.I've seen all the arguments of the homosexual lobby...they think they're very smart.And finally the most vile and offensive...anyone who disagrees with their vile and dangerous way of life is a closet homosexual.I disagree with zoophilia and think it's an abomination...does that mean I subconsciously want to sleep with my dog?!".

I always try to look at both sides of almost every argument in politics - even where I myself have a conflict of interest in that I am a party whose rights are under dispute in this debate. I am trying really hard to keep my "rational" hat on, despite the odd gnashing of teeth reading such pronouncements provokes in me and many other members of the gay community. Milton and his like simply dodge the question of how they can reconcile allowing marriage for those who cannot produce children arising from their relationships with their opposition to similar recognition by the State of the non-reproductive relationships of gay couples. He and his like then resort to offensive analogies with zoophilia. This is profoundly disturbing and utterly devoid of an acknowledgement that the growing propensity of scientific evidence points to a biological basis for homosexuality. For example, In 1993, Dean Hamer published findings from a linkage analysis of a sample of 76 gay brothers and their families, finding that the gay men had more gay male uncles and cousins on the maternal side of the family than on the paternal side. Gay brothers who showed this maternal pedigree were then tested for X chromosome linkage, using twenty-two markers on the X chromosome to test for similar alleles. Thirty-three of the forty sibling pairs tested were found to have similar alleles in the distal region of Xq28, which was significantly higher than the expected rates of 50% for fraternal brothers. A later analysis by Hu et al. revealed that 67% of gay brothers in a new saturated sample shared a marker on the X chromosome at Xq28. Sanders et al. (1998) replicated the study, finding 66% Xq28 marker sharing in 54 pairs of gay brothers. Blanchard and Klassen (1997) reported that each older brother increases the odds of being gay by 33%.This is now "one of the most reliable epidemiological variables ever identified in the study of sexual orientation."To explain this finding, it has been proposed that male fetuses provoke a maternal immune reaction that becomes stronger with each successive male fetus. Male fetuses produce HY antigens which are "almost certainly involved in the sexual differentiation of vertebrates." It is this antigen which maternal H-Y antibodies are proposed to both react to and 'remember'. Successive male fetuses are then attacked by H-Y antibodies which somehow decrease the ability of H-Y antigens to perform their usual function in brain masculinisation. Bocklandt, Horvath, Vilain and Hamer (2006) reported that some mothers of gay babies have extreme skewing of X chromosome inactivation. Using a sample of 97 mothers of homosexual men and 103 mothers of heterosexual men, the pattern of X inactivation was ascertained from blood assays. 4% of the mothers of straight men showed extreme skewing compared to 13% of the mothers of gay men. Mothers of two or more gay babies had extreme skewing of X inactivation of 23%. This extreme skewing may influence male sexual orientation through the fraternal birth order effect.

As such, people like Milton Fine - whether they would concede this point or not - are effectively arguing for discrimination by the State against those who happen to be born with differing DNA from perhaps 90% of the remainder of the human population. As a homosexual adult myself, I believe that not only myself but also society at large can benefit from the legalisation of same-sex unions. Indeed I would prefer these take the form of marriage, even if this might not in practice entail the exact same provisions as heterosexual marriage. Even within the gay community, there are many who acknowledge that as heterosexual marriage is more likely to result in the rearing of children, that certain tax-benefits that accrue to marriage as currently constituted in Ireland might not need to apply to a same-sex form of marriage. But the terminology is important to me. While civil-unions would be a major step forward, I have one problem with them - by not calling them "marriage", the State is arguably implying that same-sex relationships are not equal in moral terms to heterosexual relationships. I dispute this thesis. Society has a common interest in social-stability, and in turn the evidence would seem to suggest that children benefit from their parents being married, because of the greater stability parental marriage gives to the child's emotional development. Many children suffer emotional pain from the breakup of their parents, and it seems such breakups are more likely to occur outside the context of marriage. While I have argued that children are best brought up by a mother and father, I acknowledge that in the real world, some gay couples are in practice rearing children. In that respect I found a story on the Late Late Show some months ago about the sad case of the lack of legal rights afforded to the surviving partner of a lesbian relationship when her partner died, including in terms of parenting rights. Despite what might be ideal in life, the world is more complicated than that, and one size - despite what Milton and co. feel - will not always fit all. It is in the context of the above then that I call on the Government to legalise same-sex marriages, and to assign to the parties to such partnerships inheritance, property, and guardianship rights as apply in heterosexual marriages. In a world where America may be about to elect its first African-American president and where a woman came close to being the first of her gender to breach that glass ceiling, we need to remember we have a few of our own to breach in this country.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ireland - The Mouse that Roared

In a great day for Irish and European democracy, the Irish people, on a higher turnout than Nice II, rejected the illegitimate and anti-democratic Lisbon Treaty by 53.4% to 46.6%. In doing so, they have struck a blow for freedom and against remote, unaccountable and undemocratic rule by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. They have shown great courage in the face of an Establishment media blitz by Independent Newspapers, the Irish Times, the Sunday Business Post, The Tribune and others who bombarded us with a relentless torrent of black propaganda about the “disaster” a no vote would be for Ireland. As I pointed out on a previous post, the final day before polling was marked by a disgraceful attempt at scaremongering on the front-page of the Irish Independent, claiming that a “No” vote would accelerate rising unemployment. It is interesting that while the margins were not as large on the day, the poll on the Independent’s own website and the story’s comment pages were deluged by angry criticism of the story and support for a “No” vote.

This outcome cannot be separated from the context in which it takes place, which relates to one of my biggest grievances against our party-political culture - namely the culture of the “cosy-consensus”, in which like the ideological equivalent of a business-cartel cornering the market by refusing to compete with one another on price, the political-elites insist on refusing to compete with one another on a certain set of political issues. The Irish elites insisted - like with immigration - on refusing to represent the huge segment of public opinion that has historically opposed closer European political integration. Never has that been more true that now, with the elites continuing to display open contempt for our decision. Only yesterday, Una Claffey, former government spokesperson, argued that in Lisbon “we” had gotten all we wanted. Who is the “we” in this? This mantra continues to be repeated by members of the FF elite, who insisted during the referendum campaign that “we” had gotten all our “redlines” in the negotiations. Again who are “we”? The answer is clear - they are referring to themselves - the elite. Never in the history of Irish politics as an independent country have our political-class be so out of touch with the people they claim to represent.

It is infuriating to me, as a “no” voter, to hear Barroso, Wallstrom, Polish PM Donald Tusk, French Secretary for Europe Jouyet, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier and others insist that the ratification of the Treaty must go ahead. On the contrary it must not go ahead, and most certainly must not apply to Ireland in its current form. The Irish people have said “no” and if the elites persist in trying to railroad us into ratification by trying to isolate us by getting the other 26 governments and parliaments to ratify Lisbon, then it will only reinforce Irish and European public opinion of Brussels as a remote and anti-democratic project. While a pro-European myself, I had not choice but to vote no due to a number of factors including those I have described in the previous post. The French and Dutch peoples have already said no. Now the Irish have said no. You don’t need to be a rocket-scientist to deduce how the British would vote had they been given the opportunity. When the Irish politicians tell the other states should continue ratification, what they really mean is that the governments and parliaments of those countries should do so - for not one of them will dare put this to a referendum in their respective countries due to the certainty of a “no” vote. Sarkozy said as much in a meeting with journalists some months ago.

Our decision on the current package is final. Another tarted-up copy of the rejected formula rejected by the Dutch, French, and now Irish is a non-runner. We Irish are tiring of the “permanent revolution” of European integration. We want to remain in the EU and the euro, but not at any price. The recent reintroduction of the annual 1916 parades have served to remind the Irish people of what was sacrificed for our freedom, and I believe a richer Ireland is now more self-confident and inclined to defend its sovereignty in a way that was not the case in the past. If they come back to us again with a new package, we must insist it be radically different - at least in its application to Ireland - from the one we have rejected. That must include the deletion of the self-amending Article 48 that allows for treaty ratification without referenda, the retention of our Commissioner and voting weight on the Council, an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights like Poland and the UK obtained, and the retention of our national vetoes on issues like energy, public health, and tourism and sport. Anything less deserves the same answer we gave on June 12th.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vote No to the Lisbon Treaty

Over the past few weeks, I have focused much of my attention on this blog on the threat I believe is posed to democracy and sovereignty by the Lisbon Treaty. I do not regret a word of what I have said, because I know how much was sacrificed by the men and women of 1916, the War of Independence, 1798 etc. and how we must not allow their collective sacrifice to have been in vain by surrendering our hardwon Irish sovereignty. I believe that it is imperative that the Irish people turn out in large numbers to say a firm "No" to this Treaty.

However you intend to vote though, make sure you do vote. Our ancestors also sacrificed in some cases their lives for us to have that right and we should not dishonor their sacrifice either. But consider this - if we centralise power in the European Union from the national political sphere to that of far away Brussels and its unelected bureaucrats, then the whole point of having elections is called into question. I do not want Dail Eireann and the Government to become a glorified county council and a glorifed Lord Mayor. European political integration has gone far enough. The elites must listen to us jsut as they failed to listen to the peoples of France and Holland, who said no to the EU Constitution - the evil twin of the Lisbon Treaty - in their referenda in 2005. Thankfully unlike these 2 countries, our Constitution cannot be changed without a referendum, and as such it will not be so easy to get around our "No" vote. This places Ireland in a privileged position and is a trump card to be used wisely, to extract the best possible deal for Ireland. Lisbon is not that deal. It removes our automatic right to a Commissioner and EU referenda, halving our vote on the Council of Ministers and changing the voting system to favour the Big States, ends our neutrality by Article 28a's mutual-defence pact, while making it easier for Brussels bureaucrats to interfere with our taxsystem in Article 113.

Noone can truthfully (unless misinformed) tell me then that Lisbon is the best deal Ireland had available to it. The Irish Times reported at the time of the negotiations that the Government had considered obtaining an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights with its legally-binding status that will allow the ECJ to strike down Irish law in a vast array of human-rights areas including asylum and industrial relations. That they did not take out the opt-out is painted as being due to pressure from SIPTU - yet even SIPTU is staying on the fence this time - perhaps owing in part to the chastening experience since their backing of Nice of rulings by the ECJ like Laval, which confirmed the right of businesses to exploit Eastern European labour by paying below agreed rates of pay.

The "Yes" side like to write off the no campaign as the some old 'headbangers/loolahs' who opposed previous EU treaties. Yet this is disproven by the involvement of Libertas and its Chairman Declan Ganley who supported Nice I and II, as well as the involvement of some of the unions such as the TEEU. I for one am very pro-European and find myself being forced to say no on this occasion. Because while I am passionately pro-European, I put democracy first. The peoples of France and Holland said no in 2005, and if the elites succeed in riding roughshod over their wishes, then the Brussels elite will feel emboldened to become even more indifferent to public opinion across Europe. That is why real pro-Europeans will vote no today.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Yes" press scaremonging on Lisbon Treaty

As tomorrow's historic EU referendum approaches on whether Ireland should remain an independent nation state or dissolve into a colony of a European empire by supporting the Lisbon treaty, the Establishment are feeling the heat, and like a wounded animal, have gone into full headless chicken mode. This morning's Irish Independent frontpage being a case-in-point. With jobs losses growing by the week, they cynically seek to link the issue to the possibility of a "No" vote to the June 12th referendum. This article is pure facile scaremongering and beneath contempt. But it deserves a reply from the "No" camp, and as a determined "no" voter who believes the time has come to draw a line in the sand against further surrender of sovereignty to Brussels, I firmly believe it merits - just - a response. So here goes. In the article, by Fionnán Sheehan, Brendan Keenan and Aine Kerr state:

"THE dole queues are swelling by nearly 1,000 people a week -- and things will worsen if the Lisbon Treaty is rejected, the 'Yes' camp warned yesterday.
Record unemployment figures revealed yesterday prompted 'Yes' campaigners to warn it is no time to gamble on the economy.
The numbers drawing the dole have risen by a record 48,000 in the past year, and by nearly 28,000 since the start of the year, with unemployment breaking the 200,000 mark for the first time in almost a decade.
The alarming figures, which detail the full extent of the economic slowdown, have come just two days before the country is due to vote on the Lisbon Treaty. 'Yes' campaigners cautioned against sending out a negative message about the country in tomorrow's referendum at a time of such enormous economic challenges."


I fail to see the link here. These job losses are already happening - without Lisbon in force. Why should they suddenly soar after a "No" vote? This is utter rubbish. If anything a "Yes" vote will jeopardise the Irish economy considering the threats of Article 113 which calls for the harmonisation of indirect and turnover taxes to combat "distortions of competition". It also copperfastens the plan by EU Tax Commissioner Laslo Kovacs to introduce destination-taxes on companies exporting from Ireland under a scheme - said to be backed by 2/3rds of member states and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso - known as CCCTB (Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base). During last Monday's debate on the Treaty, Declan Ganley, leader of the anti-Treaty group Libertas, read out comments by IBEC condemning CCCTB about a year ago. It is highly strange then, that IBEC has lined up with the Establishment behind Lisbon, especially as other senior businessmen like Ganley, Ulick McEvaddy and Chris Coughlan (President-elect of Chambers Ireland) have come out for a "no" vote. Clearly they can't all be right about what is best for the economy and business. The reality is that after 4 years during which 400,000 nationals of the 12 new Eastern European EU member states entered the EU in a "Big Bang" Enlargement, and during which unemployment has risen from 4% to 5.5% with dole-queues now over 200,000 for the first time since 1997, and with most new jobs in 2007 going to non-nationals according to the CSO, we would be wrong to once more be taken in by the propaganda of an increasingly self-serving, patronising, and demonstrably wrong Establishment. Much of the blame for what has happened has to lie at their door, as they hoodwinked us into voting for Nice. As someone who voted "Yes" to the Amsterdam and Nice treaties (both times), I for one believe a lot of us feel hoodwinked about the consequences of voting for Nice, and if given a chance to take back my "Yes" votes would do so in a heartbeat.

Article 48 of Lisbon allows EU member state governments to make changes to the text of the Treaties under a 'simplified ratification process'. The agenda behind this is clear - to allow the Irish government get around the Crotty Judgement 1987 - which requires it to give us a referendum on changes in the EU treaties that involve a transfer of sovereignty. In this context, the Government would be able to surrender more national vetoes in the future without consulting us in a referendum. Furthermore, the Treaty, by ending Ireland's right to a Commissioner for 5 out of 15 years, makes it more likely that the EU CCCTB tax-harmonisation plan will come about, because the consent of the Commission is needed before Enhanced Cooperation - the mechanism favoured by Commissioner Kovacs to get around the Irish veto with the support of 9 member states - can be invoked. Taking this into account, together with the surrender under Article 188O of the national veto on the terms of international agreements such as are being negotiated at the WTO presently, which can only be a disaster for Irish farmers just like for Irish fishermen since 1973, it is an uncontestable truth, in my opinion, that Lisbon constitutes a grave threat to the Irish economy - to its competitiveness, to its agriculture industry, and to its right to set its own taxes. In fact, unemployment in the Netherlands has fallen to just 2% (from 3.5% in 2005) since their "No" vote to the EU Constitution (which Bertie Ahern admits is 95% identicalt to Lisbon). Sinn Fein Senator Pearse Doherty, in a debate on Today with Pat Kenny on RTE Radio on Monday, pointed out that FDI in France had doubled to a 10 year high one year after their "No" vote. In that context the evidence seems overwhelming that a "No" vote could be just what the economy needs at a time when international investors fear EU tax harmonisation will erode their capacity to invest profitably in Ireland.

As such, we ought to vote no in order to preserve what little independence we have left - but especially what little real control we have over our lives - our tax rates. As we enter increasingly unstable and choppy economic waters, it is imperative that we retain our right to set our own taxes. The Establishment are panicking as their beloved Act of Union 2008 goes down the tubes - make sure you drive a stake through the heart of this Dracula of treaties tomorrow. Your children and grandchildren are depending on you. Don't let them have to ask you many years from now "Daddy why did you vote to give up our independence to Brussels?".

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lisbon Treaty on knife-edge - poll

The final poll of the Lisbon Campaign shows a statistical dead-heat 4 days before polling-day. The Red C poll in the Sunday Business Post has the yes side on 42% (+1) while the "No" side are on 39% (+6). The gap between the Yes and No camps has closed even further in today’s poll, leaving the race too close to call. The Yes camp secures almost the same proportion of voters as it did two weeks ago, with 42 per cent of all Irish citizens claiming they will vote Yes, an increase of just 1 per cent. Simultaneously, the No camp’s share of the vote has rocketted by 6 per cent in the past two weeks, with 39 per cent of all Irish citizens claiming that they will vote No.

This leaves just 19% of all voters still undecided a week before polling day. If this 19% who are undecided were to vote in the same way as those who currently declare an opinion, the referendum would just be carried with 52% voting in favour of the treaty and 48% voting against.But this is really too close to call based on the poll being taken a full week before voting day and the fact that sample error is plus or minus 3 per cent.The momentum also appears to be with the No campaigners, as the trend over the past four weeks has seen them increase their declared share of the vote by a massive 10%, while the Yes campaigners have only made 4 per cent gains in the same period.If this trend continues for another week the No camp may do enough to stop the ratification. Among the 50% in the poll who say they are certain to vote, the yes side lead 46 per cent to 37% However, this is the highest no vote in the history of EU referenda polling, and leaves the yes side with a far smaller lead than before the first Nice Treaty referendum in 2001, which the no side went on to win. With 17% still on the no side even among those certain they will vote, and with 6/7s of the former "Dont Knows" going to the no side to only 1/7 to the "yes" side, that strongly suggests a possible "no" victory of 51-49. Further analysis suggests that campaigners should focus in particular on persuading those in younger age groups and more deprived socio-economic groups that voting is worthwhile.The tight outcome of today’s poll suggests that the final days’ campaigning remains vital for both sides to achieve their aims, and we can expect a lot more fighting before polling day. Red C interviewed a random sample of 1,006 adults aged over 18 by telephone between May 30 and June 4.

One concern I have about this poll is the date-range during which it was taken. It was taken between May 30th and June 4th - thus taking in a period the week before last before the recent surge in the no vote seen to some extent in this poll but especially in the TNS-MRBI poll which showed the "no" side in the lead. As TNS-MRBI were more accurate predictors of the outcome of last year's General Election than Red C (whose final poll had FF on only 38% while Red C sayd 41%), and because of the disparity in date-range, I am going to conclude that consequently, the Red C poll may be o=understating the true strength of the "No" vote. Even if it is not, the fact that in almost all Irish EU referenda, the "Don't Knows" break decisively for the "No" vote, together with the clear trend of a mass-movement of undecideds into the "No" camp by a 6:1 ratio, gives me confidence that when the bvallot-boxes are opened on Friday morning, that this Treaty will have been rejected by the Irish people, and a better deal for Ireland will become possible. One which retains our right to a Commissioner, the independence of our courts from the meddling of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, does not halve our voting weight on the Council of Ministers while doubling Germany's, protects our tax veto from Articles 113 and Article 48 and which protects our right to referenda from the predatory intentions of Article 48 and the 'simplified revision procedures'. People of Ireland remember the men and women of 1916, and the dead generations who sacrificed their lives for your freedom. Do not sell it out just so Cowen doesn't have to explain himself to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels who hate democracy and are trying to foist their wishes on the unwilling peoples of Europe - notably the French and Dutch peoples whose democracy they have attacked with this Treaty. Vote no on Thursday.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

No side surges into lead

In a dramatic reversal of fortunes, the "No" side has surged into a 5 point lead over the "Yes" side in the Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign. The findings, taken on Tuesday (the day of the IFA decision to support the treaty) and Wednesday, also shows a big rise in opposition to the Treaty among Fianna Fáil voters. It will take an unprecedented swing in the last week of the campaign for the treaty to be carried.The poll shows the number of people intending to vote No has almost doubled to 35 per cent (up 17 points) since the last poll three weeks ago, while the number of the Yes side has declined to 30 per cent (down 5 points).

The number of undecided voters is still a significant 28 per cent (down 12 points) while 7 per cent won't vote. The massive increase by the No vote since the last poll has mainly come through gains among undecided voters but, even more ominously for the Yes side, it has lost some support to the No camp. The momentum is now with the No campaign and with most undecideds in EU referenda historically going to the "No" side, it will now take a miracle for the yes side to win. The reason most often cited by No voters is that they don't know what they are voting for or they don't understand the treaty - with 30 per cent of No voters listing this as the main reason for their decision. The poll was conducted last Tuesday and Wednesday among a representative sample of 1,000 voters in face-to-face interviews at 100 sampling points in all 43 constituencies. As such, it is remarkable that the IFA rowing in behind the "yes" side has failed to sway farmers, with 34% against Lisbon and 31% in favour.

The No majority among working-class C2DE voters is much bigger, with Labour voters shifting in large numbers from the Yes side. It indicates that opposition to the treaty expressed by some trade unionists is having an impact. In class terms, the Yes campaign is only ahead among better-off ABC1 voters. Opposition among Fianna Fáil voters to the treaty has grown from 10% to 25% while the proportion of Yes voters has fallen from 47%to 42 per cent. A majority of Fine Gael voters are now against the treaty - by 40 per cent to 30 per cent with Labour voters opposing it by 47 per cent with 30 per cent of party supporters in favour. Despite their parties previous Eurosceptic stance until this referendum, the strongest support for the treaty comes from Green Party supporters. Sinn Féin voters are overwhelming in the No side, with the no side leading by an incredible 66%-2%. The poll reveals the persistence of a significant difference in the attitudes of men and women to the treaty with women less likely to be in favour, although the biggest proportion of women are still in the undecided camp. Across the age groups, older people are more positively disposed towards voting Yes but only among the over-50s was there a majority for the treaty. The highest proportion of No voters came from the 35 to 49 age group. Regionally, the "no" side is strongest in Munster, leading there by 38% to 22%. In Dublin it is a smaller lead and the two sides are evenly matched in the rest of Leinster and Connacht-Ulster. When asked for the main reasons why they had decided to vote No, not knowing what the treaty was about came first, followed by a wish to keep Ireland's power and identity. The preservation of neutrality came next. Those voting Yes cited keeping Ireland closely involved in the EU as their top reason followed by enabling the EU to work more effectively. Concerns about the country's economic future came next.

With only 30% of the "no" voters cited lack of information as a reason for voting no, this blows apart the lame arguments of some on the yes side that the no voters are simply voting no because they don't understand what they are voting on. That 48% of no voters cite a desire to protect Irish identity and power or neutrality, it is clear that the arguments of Libertas, Sinn Fein, the Peoples Movement (including Patricia McKenna, Kathy Sinnott and Finian McGrath TD) about the loss of sovereignty, democracy and neutrality are finding currency with the Irish electorate. We remember that the men and women of 1916 fought and died for our freedom, and this wealthier, more confident Ireland will no longer be bullied into voting for European integration out of a fear of losing subsidies or offending arrogant and imperialist politicians in France and Germany, whose desire for a European Superstate with harmonised taxes grows clearer by the day.

Irish elites and jobs in Brussels

The Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a body of the European Union (EU) established in 1957. It is a consultative assembly composed of employers, employees and representatives of various other interests. It is similar to the Committee of the Regions, with whom it shares the Delors building in Brussels as its seat. Currently, EESC membership numbers 344. The number of members per EU state varies according to the population of each state (see table below for state-by-state membership figures). Members of the EESC are divided into three groups of equal number, employers, employees and a third group of various other changing interests such as: farmers, consumer groups, professional associations and so on. Members are appointed by the Council following nominations made by the government of the respective Member State. However, once appointed, the members are completely independent of their governments. The term for members is for four years, and is renewable. The President of the EESC is Dimitris Dimitriadis, elected in october 2006 for a term of two years. It is informative to note the backgrounds in the Irish elites of some of the Irish representatives on this body, particularly as the govt attempts to make the support of some of the elites of the business, farmers and union organisations a marker of the credibility of the yes campaign:

Employers Group:·
Harry Byrne – Guinness Pension Scheme Trustees·
Clare Carroll – Consultant on Employment Affairs ·
Thomas MacDonagh –International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)

Employees Group:·
Joan Carmichael - Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU)·
William Attley – Former General Secretary SIPTU·
Jim McCusker - Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance

Special Interests Group (Agriculture, Women and Youth organisations):·
Frank Allen –Former President Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) ·
John Donnelly – Former President of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA)·
Jillian van Turnhout – Former President of National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI)

Draw your own conclusions. I have drawn mine. :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

On July 1, 1940 the French Parliament and government assembled in Vichy, a city in the center of France, which was used as a provisional capital. Pierre Laval and Raphaël Alibert started persuading the Senators and Assemblymen, to vote full powers to Marshall Phillippe Pétain. They used every means available: promising some ministerial posts, threatening and intimidating others. The charismatic figures who could have opposed themselves to Laval, Georges Mandel, Edouard Daladier, etc., were on board the ship Massilia, headed for North Africa. On July 10, 1940 the Parliament, composed of the Senate and the National Assembly, voted by 569 votes against 80 (known as the Vichy 80, including 62 Radicals and Socialists), and 30 voluntary abstentions, to grant full and extraordinary powers to Marshal Pétain. By the same vote, they also granted him the power to write a new Constitution.

On 13th January 2008, the representatives of 17 member states of the European Union met in Lisbon to sign the Treaty bearing the name of that city (to which my sympathies go out). Ostensibly the treaty entailed Prominent changes in the Treaty of Lisbon include the scrapping of the pillar system, reduced chances of stalemate in the EU Council through more qualified majority voting, a more powerful European Parliament through extended codecision with the EU Council, as well as new tools for greater coherence and continuity in policies, such as a long-term President of the European Council and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs. In practice what we are seeing is history repeating itself. Once against national parliaments were and are being asked to surrender their powers to an all-powerful, unelective elite. Once again those who dare to stand up to the great and the good are threatened, bribed or promised patronage in the pan-European equivalent of Vichy. Kites are flown about who may be in with a shot of becoming President of the European Council, a post specifically created by Lisbon.

As the Irish people prepare to vote next week on the Lisbon Treaty, let us pause to think of past experiments in the surrender of national sovereignty to unelective institutions, ostensibly in the name of peace (as also claimed by the Vichy collaborators of 1940), and let us recall too the calamitous consequences those decisions had for millions of Europeans. Let us reflect on the price France and Europe and millions of their peoples paid for this terrible mistake, and let us reflect too on the tremendous sacrifices made by many tens of thousands of Irish people, generation after generation, who gave their lives for the freedom we - for now - enjoy. Let us not be bullied into repeating the mistakes of history. Say no to Lisbon, and yes that Europe will continue to be a democratic union of independent nation states - not a European empire trampling democracy under the jackboot of totalitarianism embodied in this Treaty. Let us stand with the peoples of France and the Netherlands in defence of the democracy they expressed in 2005 by rejecting the EU Constitution - which Bertie admits is 95% the same as the Lisbon Treaty.